Repression Is the Wrong Approach to America’s Opioid Epidemic

Donald Trump promises a “tough law-and-order approach” to the drug crisis. That is the wrong approach.

American president Donald Trump is seen in Washington DC, January 20
American president Donald Trump is seen in Washington DC, January 20 (DoD/Marianique Santos)

One of the few silver linings to last year’s presidential election in the United States was that candidates from both major parties recognized that opioid addiction should be treated as a public-health, rather than a law-enforcement, problem.

Which makes it all the more disheartening that Donald Trump is taking exactly the wrong approach to this crisis.

Politico reports that the new president believes in a “tough law-and-order approach” to arrest the rise in drug overdose deaths.

142 Americans die from opioid abuse every day. That is more than die in car accidents or from guns.

The crisis is concentrated in postindustrial states like Kentucky and West Virginia: the heart of Trumpland.

No simple solution

Despite Trump’s constant laments about drugs being smuggled in from Central America, most deaths and health problems are related to prescription drugs. That’s not going to be solved by hiring more border guards or building a wall.

There is no simple solution, but removing the stigma on addiction could go a long way to convincing more Americans to seek help.

And help needs to be there. Some 1.2 million Americans with substance abuse disorders have been able to afford care through Barack Obama’s Medicaid expansion — the very expansion Trump’s Republicans have tried to undo.

The president’s own 2017 budget calls for $100 million in cuts to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s funding.

Broken promises

Trump promised not to cut Medicaid.

He promised to “work with” addicts and “make them better”.

He is breaking those promises.

Just like withdrawing the United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership has hurt farmers; just like his tax reforms will benefit bosses, not workers; just like his empty promises will do nothing to revive the coal industry, Trump is letting down the very people who supported him from the start by treating addiction as a crime rather than a disease.